Grainger County Circuit Court Judge James L. Gass was justified when he denied post-conviction relief to Randy B. Dalton due to alleged ineffective performance by his trial attorney, according to an appeals court decision posted Wednesday afternoon.
Dalton, 41, was sentenced to 18 years in state prison in 2016 after pleading guilty to the armed robbery of a pharmacy – a case in which he falsely represented he had a bomb – escape, felony auto theft and ginseng-related misdemeanors, according to the eight-page Court of Criminal Appeals opinion.
Dalton is incarcerated at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility. His sentence isn’t flat until October 2030, and he’s not parole eligible until April 2024, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.
His 18-year sentence was a hybrid. Gass ordered Dalton to serve 85 percent of a 12-year sentence for the armed robbery; 35 percent of a six-year sentence for the theft; 35 percent of a four-year sentence for escape and 11 months and 29 days for illegally harvesting ginseng.
He didn’t attack robbery and escape convictions because it would have been an exercise in futility. In his appeal, Dalton focused on the value of the pickup he stole from the Grainger County school system while on work release, which would have impacted his sentencing on the theft charge, according to the opinion.
The school system purchased the truck for $1,400 in 1998, but by the time Dalton took it during his escape, it had 400,000 miles and school officials had contemplated selling it for scrap. For the purposes of his plea, the vehicle was valued at more than $1,000. Dalton, who had bought and sold cars all his life, argued that the vehicle was worth no more than $500, according to the opinion.
He claims his unidentified trial attorney’s failure to accurately establish the value of the pickup amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel. The argument gained traction with Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer, who wrote the opinion for the unanimous appeals court.
“The evidence presented was that counsel researched the value of the truck and determined, based on the guide in the Kelley Blue Book, that the truck had a value of more than $1,000 … The evidence was that counsel worked diligently to work a ‘substantial break’ … to a sentence considerably lower than the potential sentences for these offenses,” the appeals court judge concluded.